Famous Writers School

Steven Carter, Author . Counterpoint $23 (252p) ISBN 978-1-58243-356-1

Wendell Newton, the protagonist in Carter's second novel (after I Was Howard Hughes ), is a former editorial staffer at America's Farmer and author (or so he says) of more than 70 stories, essays and reviews, and a forthcoming novel. He's also the founder, director and writer-in-residence of the Famous Writers School, a correspondence course advertised in the back pages of literary quarterlies. His students include a John Deere sales rep who writes gritty crime fiction and two women—a Pittsburgh "blues and torch" singer and a housewife given to sentence fragments—whose ambitions are less well-defined. The tractor salesman's talent makes Wendell's attitude toward him initially adversarial and eventually predatory, while Wendell's relationships with the two women quickly devolve into psychological gamesmanship. Some of Wendell's writing advice is wryly humorous ("[E}very artist steals. However, when one steals, he must steal brilliantly"), but, as Wendell insists in Lesson Five, plot must always grow out of character, and it's here the novel stumbles. Though Wendell exerts a perverse charm on the reader as a lovable loser, his students, who exist entirely through their correspondence, are lightly sketched. The novel's rewards are nonetheless considerable. Carter has a terrific ear for the rumblings of the human ego and an intuitive sense of how fiction is often substituted for truth—and vice versa. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 07/31/2006
Release date: 09/01/2006
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